Page 104 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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9 2
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
His first great halakhic work was his two volumes entitled
Geonica,
published in 1909. Today we have a large and growing
literature on the Geonic period and the number of collections of
Geonic responsa has greatly increased. When Prof. Ginzberg
entered the field he was a pioneer. The period was obscure, and
then the Genizah had just come to the attention of scholars. Pro­
fessor Ginzberg selected some of the responsa he found in the
Genizah, studied and edited them with introductions and notes
that are masterpieces of painstaking scholarship, and wrote a
lengthy introduction to the total collection. The introduction,
which takes up all of volume one, has a history of the period, the
structure of society, of the schools and of the Geonate, a critical
study of the books that have come down to us from that period
such as the
Sheeltot,
the
Halakhot Gedolot, Seder Rab Amram,
etc. He insists, however, that the major activity of the Geonim
which influenced the Jewish community beyond the confines of
their area, was their written responsa. Their decision was accepted
as the final authority. When we find in later rabbinic literature
the phrase “the Geonim say,” or “the Georiim write,” it means it
is to be found in a Geonic responsum. Hence, while we possess a
legacy of diverse literary productions from the Geonic period, such
as poetry, philosophy, Targum and Midrash, mysticism and phi­
losophy, the Geonic literature
par excellence
was halakhic in
character and embodied in their extensive responsa. Again Pro­
fessor Ginzberg reiterates his insistence that the
halakhah
reflected
the true mirror of that time.6
The second volume of
Geonica
contains the responsa them­
selves reconstructed from fragments found in the Genizah. The
initiated know what profound scholarship is required for such a
prodigious project. Even the lay readers can sense from the intro­
ductions to each fragment the magnitude of the scholarship that
was involved. Each manuscript is identified, its authorship traced,
its authenticity verified, compared with other manuscripts, etc.
A work pursued in a similar vein was the three volumes of
Ginzei Schechter,
two of which were edited by Professor Ginzberg.
These, too, are mainly fragments of responsa and some other
halakhic material found in the Genizah. All subsequent historians
and students of the Geonic period were indebted to the work of
Professor Ginzberg.7
His magnum opus, to which he devoted most of his efforts,
especially in the latter years of his life, and which he himself
considered most important, was his commentary on the Jerusalem
Talmud. This was a neglected field in Jewish scholarship. I recall,
if I may be personal, when I entered the Jewish Theological
6
Geonica (New York,
1909
) , vol.
1
, pp. IX,
72
.
7
See the works of Assaf, Baron and Neusner on the period.